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The Indian Capture ofJacob Nicely

by Ronald Earl Nicely

A Joint Meeting with the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society

Signals, November 2005


Settler and Indian struggled for possession of this area in the second half of the 18th century. Many an atrocity was perpetrated by both sides in our now quiet forests and dells.

Our lecture this month tells the story of a five-year-old white boy kidnapped in 1775 by Wyandot Indians, torn from all that was dear to him, who curiously later gained prominence – and peace – among the Seneca nation and left a long line of proud Indian descendants. The real beauty of this story is that in modern times the kin of the kidnapped boy, white and Indian, have been able to reconcile and to a degree dispel the unpleasantries of those tumultuous times so long ago.

Our kidnap victim, Jacob (Kneisle) Nicely, came from a German immigrant family that had initially lived in Philadelphia but had moved to Four-Mile Run near Ligonier, Pennsylvania, in 1761. The British encouraged the Indians to terrorize Americans during the Revolution, and the Kneisle incident resulted from this agitation.

Not a few Indian captives found life more congenial among the tribes, and this was the case with Jacob. His Indian name was Crow, given because of a distinctive sound to his crying. He became a skilled deer hunter, married four times and lived among the Seneca at Sandusky, Ohio. His white family thought he was lost, but they learned of his whereabouts in 1828 and tried to effect a reunion. Crow declined to return to his former life.

In 1831, when the lands of the Seneca were ceded to the United States government, Crow became relatively wealthy as a result of the sale of his property. In 1832 he decided to move with his adopted people to a reservation in Oklahoma, an arduous journey of 1000 miles. Shortly after his arrival there in 1833, Crow died of cholera at age 63.

More than 200 years later the Nicely and Whitecrow clans were able to reunite and remember their ancestor and their shared heritage.

Telling this story is Ronald Earl Nicely, who was born and raised in Ligonier Township in Westmoreland County. After service in the U. S. Army and a degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Nicely was employed by the Kennametal Corporation for 35 years. He is now retired and resides in Latrobe, where he keenly pursues history, including that of his own family. His book was published in 2004 in cooperation with Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Indian Trouble on Big Sewickley Creek

One famous incident that occurred nearby in the spring of 1779 featured the famous scout and Indian fighter Sam Brady. (We are grateful to Allan W. Eckert’s That Dark and Bloody River, published 1995 by Bantam Books, for the details.)

Brady had been charged by Colonel Daniel Brodhead, in command at Fort McIntosh in today’s Beaver, with forming an elite group of rangers to control increasing Indian violence. One of that unit’s first adventures occurred along Big Sewickley Creek, as the group patrolled the road east from Fort McIntosh to Fort Pitt looking for Indians who might assault the isolated settlements north of the river or cross the Ohio River to raid there. They picked up the tracks of a party of 25 Indians who were headed up the valley of Big Sewickley Creek. Brady knew that there were some German families settled along that creek, and he feared the worst.

Approaching Big Sewickley’s headwaters, the party came to the claim of Jacob Frantz, where they found his burned cabin still smoldering. Nearby lay the bodies of Frantz and his 18 year old daughter, both tomahawked and scalped. In a cornfield they found another man, Elmer Krebs, who was barely alive, having been mortally wounded and scalped. He told of an Indian attack while the cornfield was being planted. Frantz had been shot outright, and his daughter Sophie murdered because she was lame and could not walk well. A second daughter and two other men had been carried off by the savages.

The Brady party followed their trail. Soon they came to another cabin that had been set ablaze, this one belonging to John Henry, a Dutchman. As there were no bodies, it was assumed that Henry and his wife and two children had been carried off.

The pursuit continued northeast toward the Allegheny. Eventually Brady caught up with some of the Indians, who had camped near a great bend in the river about 60 miles upriver from Pittsburgh. The Indians were surprised at dawn; several were shot, and the rest scattered. The Henry children were rescued. Canoes were constructed to float them down to Pittsburgh, where they were turned over to relatives. The rifles and other plunder that the Indians left behind were auctioned for the benefit of the children. To commemorate the rescue, the site was named Brady’s Bend.

Colonel Brodhead was much pleased with his new rangers, but violence was to continue for many years along the frontier.

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